The Lazy Genius

Security News & Brain Dumps from Xavier Ashe, a Bit9 Client Partner

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Security Tips for the New Year for the non-Security Geek

Posted by Xavier Ashe on January 2, 2014

Welcome to 2014 everyone. ¬†This year is going to be better than the last one, right?! ¬†Well, to set you up for success, I suggest you do the things listed below. ¬†Skip to the List. ¬†Most folks, unless you’ve already been a victim of identity theft, have a “probably won’t happen to me” mentality when it comes to security and privacy threats. ¬†Have you ever said:

  • “I don’t have anything to hide.”
  • “Why would hackers target me? ¬†I have no money.”
  • “There’s no way to stop hackers now-a-days, so why try. ¬†I probably won’t be attacked.”

Those rationalizations are all rooted in truth, and if I wasn’t in the security business, I would probably fall right in line with you. ¬†However, I am in the security industry, and I see it all. ¬†I read nearly all the published breach reports. ¬†I have access to tons of unpublished breach information, and I’ve been personally involved in cleaning up several of the high profile breaches this year.

So you would expect me to advise people and companies to SECURE IT ALL! ¬†Well, I think there’s a lot of truth to the third bullet above. ¬†Between government agencies like the NSA & China, organized crime syndication, and that bored teenager down the street, there’s not much you can do to be 100% secure. ¬†It’s impossible to SECURE IT ALL!

What can be done? ¬†I call it “Good Enough Security”. ¬†Follow these steps to figure out what you need to do. ¬†This is the same process I take companies through, and it works just as well on a personal level.

  1. Think about what data you have that could be valuable to hackers, beyond your cash and credit. Your computer can be used to mine Bitcoins, attack websites, and participate in fraud.  Your social networking accounts can be used in fraud, and those passwords are often very similar to the ones used for banking.
  2. Expand the definition of hackers to include ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, teenage kids (yours or otherwise), former and current co-workers, and social networking “friends”. There are governments and foreign elite hackers, but you are also just as likely to be attacked from someone you know. ¬†(Some attacks can be stupid easy.)
  3. Think about how you are vulnerable.  Do you reuse the same password with a number at the end?  Do you use public internet computers or shared wi-fi hotspots?  Do you have a smart phone with no extra security?  Do you have teenagers?

The security buzzwords for the above list are 1) know your assets 2) know the threat and 3) identify vulnerabilities.  It is the core of what we like to call a risk analysis.

Okay, but what about you?  The individual with a laptop, iPhone and iPad, a Facebook account, credit cards and a bank account.  What are some simple ways of setting yourself up for success in the New Year?

  • Change your passwords. ¬†All of them. ¬†Today. ¬†And then,
  • Use Passphrases. There is a lot of research behind it. ¬†“Xavieriscoolerin2014!” is a much better password than “X@v1er2014”. ¬†You can also use the website names in your passphrase, e.g. “IjoinedFacebookin2009.”
  • Save your passwords, but not in the browser. ¬†I would suggest a notebook, if you are low tech. ¬†If you want a good tool, try LastPass. ¬†It can sync password between various devices (including mobile devices), and is much more secure than Chrome or Firefox.
  • Don’t use the same password on different sites. ¬†When a website gets hacked (like Adobe, Facebook, GMail, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), those passwords gets added to a big dictionary that are used in future attacks. ¬†There will be more attacks of this nature in 2014, so set yourself up for success now.
  • Add a passcode to your phone. ¬†Of all the security features that allows you to protect your phone, this is the best option. ¬†As long as it’s not a super simple code (1234, 2580, or 4 of the same number), you can pick something easy to type in.
  • Get new credit and debit card numbers. ¬†Call your bank and credit card providers and ask for new digits. ¬†Tell them that this is due to the Target breach and you would like to cancel your current credit card number. ¬†This is a good practice to do about once every year or two.
  • Secure your Android device. ¬†Android has an open platform that fosters innovation, but also allows for being tricked into installing malware. ¬†I suggest Zoner Antivirus.
  • Get a better antivirus. ¬†Do you have the same antivirus that was packaged with your machine? ¬†Go to AV Comparatives to see the best, and worst. ¬†If you are a bit more technical, use the Bit9 Trust Assessment tool to get the best idea of what’s installed on your system.

If you have any other simple security tips, send them my way. ¬†Here’s to having a safe 2014!


Posted in Security | Leave a Comment »

Cyberespionage Tackle Box: FinFisher Spyware Casts Wide Net

Posted by Xavier Ashe on May 8, 2013

FinFisher’s Global Proliferation: Updated Map

Copyright, The Citizen Lab 2013

EDIT: New information about FinFisher was released by F-Secure on August 30, 2013.

Originally posted on the Bit9 Corporate Blog.

As I reviewed recent headlines, I took note of a company out of the U.K.,¬†Gamma International,¬†that makes purpose-built spying tools. Their software offering is called¬†FinFisher¬†(aka FinSpy). The buzz phrase they use is ‚Äúlawful intercept,‚ÄĚ which means that its use should be bound by laws that allow spying in certain circumstances. Personally, I file it under ‚Äúgreyware,‚ÄĚ considering it could be used legally or illegally to remotely control or embed cyberespionage tools within benign looking software. So how do organizations secure themselves against these kinds of tools?

Last year Morgan Marquis-Boire, a security researcher at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, and Bill Marczak, a computer science doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley, found emails containing surveillance tools traced back to Gamma International. More recently, those researchers found the command-and-control server for FinFisher running in 36 countries. According to Mikko Hypponen of F-Secure, Gamma International even tried to sell FinFisher to the Egyptian Government under former President Mubarak.

As the New York Times reported in March:

Martin J. Muench, a Gamma Group managing director, has said his company does not disclose its customers but that Gamma Group sold its technology to governments only to monitor criminals. He said that it was most frequently used ‚Äúagainst pedophiles, terrorists, organized crime, kidnapping and human trafficking.‚ÄĚ

But evidence suggests the software is being sold to governments where the potential for abuse is high. ‚ÄúIf you look at the list of countries that Gamma is selling to, many do not have a robust rule of law,‚ÄĚ Mr. Marquis-Boire said. ‚ÄúRather than catching kidnappers and drug dealers, it looks more likely that it is being used for politically motivated surveillance.‚ÄĚ

FinSpy vs. Mozilla Firefox.

The Citizen Lab released research on the topic a few days ago titled ‚ÄúFor Their Eyes Only: The Commercialization of Digital Spying.‚ÄĚ The data in this report is shocking in many ways, including¬†a mobile version¬†of FinSpy that follows the same path as its desktop equivalent.

They also have a sample package that realistically masquerades as Mozilla’s Firefox. They copied so many details that Mozilla sent Gamma International a cease-and-desist letter, according to Wired. As you see in the screenshot below, the properties of the executable are identical. How would one ever know the difference? You could rely on virus scanners, but without a sample of the malicious code they won’t be able to detect or stop it.

The tried-and-true security tools that most of us depend on are reactive. You have to wait on security researchers to tear apart samples that they find in the wild to give you reactive protection. It’s the same old cat-and-mouse game that leaves you open to attack.

Fortunately, there is a way to end the game. The Bit9 Trust-based Security Platform takes a different approach by blocking the execution of untrusted files across endpoints and servers. Let’s look through the Citizen Lab’s research paper and see how Bit9 would stop these threats.

  • In the messages sent to Bahrain dissidents, used the¬†‚Äúright-to-left override‚ÄĚ attack. From the research paper: ‚ÄúThe RLO character (U+202e in unicode) controls the positioning of characters in text containing characters flowing from right to left, such as Arabic or Hebrew. The malware appears on a victim‚Äôs desktop as ‚Äėexe.Rajab1.jpg‚Äô (for example), along with the default Windows icon for a picture file without thumbnail. But, when the UTF-8 based filename is displayed in ANSI, the name is displayed as ‚Äėgpj.1bajaR.exe.‚Äô Believing that they are opening a harmless ‚Äė.jpg,‚Äô victims are instead tricked into running an executable ‚Äė.exe‚Äô file.‚ÄĚ
    • If Bit9 were installed and running in high-enforcement mode, the unknown or untrusted executable would not have executed. Even if you were running Bit9 in block-and-ask mode, the user would be alerted that a¬†program¬†was trying to run something other than a .jpg.
  • In emails sent to the Moroccan citizen media and journalism project Mamfakinch, the payload was in a malicious java file, ‚Äúadobe.jar.‚ÄĚ This file then facilitated the installation of a multi-platform (OSX and Windows) backdoor. On Windows, it writes a number of files, including ZsROY7X.-MP. This file appears to provide the main backdoor functionality. It adds a registry key to ensure the Trojan stays persistent and runs via rundll32.
    • Bit9 has the ability to track and block Java files as it does other executables, but it isn‚Äôt turned on by default. So if you had that Java option enabled, Bit9 would keep ‚Äúadobe.jar‚ÄĚ from ever executing. Let‚Äôs say you don‚Äôt have Java tracking enabled. In that case, ‚Äúadobe.jar‚ÄĚ would execute, writing out the files to the endpoint. Bit9 examines each file for its contents, finding the file ‚ÄúZsROY7X.-MP‚ÄĚ to be executable as DLL. When rundll32.exe is called to load it that execution will be blocked. The Trojan will never be able to execute with Bit9 installed.
  • In an email sent to Ahmed Mansoor, a prominent UAE blogger who was imprisoned, the payload is a malicious document that looks like a Microsoft Word file, but is an RTF file that exploits a stack-based buffer overflow in the RTF format and downloads additional payloads. Using a Windows API, it downloads a second file, which is also a downloader. Then the third stage is where the backdoor is downloaded, ‚Äúverimportant.doc3.‚ÄĚ The file then writes out several files, including ‚ÄúV46lMhsH.shv,‚ÄĚ which is run via ‚Äúrundll32.exe.‚ÄĚ
    • This use case has a different point of injection, but the same outcome. In this case, either the second downloader or the backdoor itself would be blocked by Bit9. Since the backdoor wouldn‚Äôt execute, cleanup would be relatively easy since it wasn‚Äôt able to inject itself into other software.
  • In the use case of the modified version of Firefox, the user would be tricked into installing the wrong version by DNS poisoning, link-jacking, cross-site scripting, clever emails, or other means. The user would then install what looks to be a normally functioning version of Firefox. Infecting an endpoint in this manner tricks the users into accepting changes to his or her system. They know they are installing software, so they are more likely to click ‚Äúyes‚ÄĚ to any security warnings.
    • Companies using Bit9 build a trust-based security approach that ensures any software delivered and executed on an endpoint has been approved in some trusted fashion. Whatever model is deployed, it can prevent ‚Äútrick the end user‚ÄĚ attacks because the malicious version of Firefox is not signed by Mozilla.¬†It would not be able to pass the rigors of a trust-based approach and would not be allowed to execute on the endpoint.

Malware comes in various shapes and sizes, with some written by criminals and others written by private companies. Keeping up with these advanced threats requires a new approach to security. Bit9 ensures that only trusted software can run, as opposed to relying on deep analysis of already-known threats that can take time and money to defend against while still leaving you unsecure. A trust-based approach is the most secure method to ensure your endpoints and servers are not being spied on by foreign governments using products such as FinFisher and FinSpy.

Posted in Bit9, Security | Leave a Comment »

Highlights from the IBM X-Force 2012 Trend and Risk Report

Posted by Xavier Ashe on March 28, 2013

Even though I am no longer an IBMer, this is still a great report to review trends. ¬†The X-Force Blog has posted their highlights, with a link at the bottom to get the full report. ¬†I’ve read through the report and here’s some bits I find interesting.

  • The distribution and installation of malware on¬†end-user systems has been greatly enabled by the¬†use of Web browser exploit kits built specifically for¬†this purpose. Exploit kits first began to appear in¬†2006 and are provided or sold by their authors to¬†attackers that want to install malware on a large¬†number of systems. They continue to be popular¬†because they provide attackers a turnkey solution¬†for installing malware on end-user systems. Java¬†vulnerabilities have become a key target for exploit¬†kits as attackers take advantage of three key¬†elements: reliable exploitation, unsandboxed code¬†execution, and cross-platform availability across multiple operating systems. Java exploits have¬†become key targets in 2012 and IBM X-Force¬†predicts this attack activity to continue into 2013.
  • The 2012 bank DDoS attacks appear to be coming¬†in part not from infected PCs, but from¬†compromised web servers that reside in high¬†bandwidth data centers. By using security vulnerabilities in CMS systems and other popular¬†web frameworks, the attackers were able to create¬†a botnet of web servers that have a much longer¬†connected uptime, as well as having more bandwidth in general, than home PCs. Because of¬†Section I‚ÄĒThreats > Rising tide of security incidents > ABC‚Äôs and DDoS‚Äôs¬†this, they were able to use fewer bots to more¬†effectively generate larger amounts of traffic.
  • In addition to new toolkits and botnets of infected¬†web servers, old reliable methods such as¬†amplification attacks are being effectively used to¬†generate high traffic. While amplification attacks¬†such as an Internet Control Message Protocal based¬†(ICMP) ‚ÄúSmurf Attack‚ÄĚ have been used for a¬†decade or more, attackers continue to use the¬†same underlying principles to generate much more¬†traffic today. In particular, DNS Amplification has¬†been successful due to the many open or¬†misconfigured DNS resolver servers on the Internet.
  • Malicious code activity overall continues to grow,¬†helped along by the combined efforts of casual¬†attackers, insider threats, cybercrime and¬†Advanced Persistent Threats. Figure 7¬†demonstrates the ‚Äúarms race‚ÄĚ that exists in
    computer security today, with the number of techniques to compromise systems constantly growing, being countered, and growing again.

Posted in IBM, Security | Leave a Comment »

Hackers, too Close to Home

Posted by Xavier Ashe on March 25, 2013

I live in the far outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia. ¬†It’s rural/suburban, with lots of horse farms and¬†country¬†clubs. ¬†You never expect to have bad things happen near you home,¬†myself¬†included. ¬†However, we do have some local drama that has bled in to my domain of information security. ¬†It all started with this:

Acworth Teen Accused of Posting Nude Photos to Porn Sites

Authorities are investigating an Acworth teen who allegedly posted naked photos of at least eight children on pornographic websites, according to a Cobb County criminal warrant.

Interesting.  At this point I find it odd, but not too interesting.  Some kids getting in trouble.  Stupid trouble, but it sounds like this guy is not a pedophile.  Then more information came out.

Police Seek More Victims in Acworth Teen’s Alleged Child Porn Scheme

The Acworth teen who allegedly posted naked photos of at least eight children on pornographic websites created a company to gain the trust of the juveniles.

Cobb County Police Sgt. Dana Pierce said today that authorities believe Harrison High School senior Michael William Cook operated under the company name Maxi Focus Photography between Nov. 1, 2012, and Jan. 1, 2013, the time frame that he allegedly posted to pornographic websites “naked” or “erotic” photos of people that he obtained through fraudulent means.

Okay, now that steps it up a notch. ¬†If true, this guy even got himself a fake business to entice girls. ¬†So he may be more of a predator than I first thought. ¬†At this point, it’s a wild story, but still a local quirky story. ¬†It just happens to be walking distance from my home. ¬†I was reading my security blogs this morning and came across this:

17-year-old arrested for hacking into phones, stealing and distributing explicit images of children

A US teenager has been charged with distributing child pornography he allegedly hacked out of minors’ cellphones with a bogus mobile text ad that installed phone-controlling malware.

According to, Sgt. Pierce claimed that Cook sent text messages to victims from a company called “Maxi Focus Photography”.

When victims clicked on a link in the text message, it installed malware that essentially gave Cook access to all information stored on the phones.

That includes access to victims’ accounts on social network sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as sexually explicit photos stored on the phones.

Cook allegedly downloaded offensive pictures and sent them to pornographic websites, Pierce said.

Now things are getting very interesting. ¬†This is more than just using a fake photography “studio” to convince girls to get naked. ¬†This was a lot more sneaky, if true. ¬†I’ve done security¬†forensics before and they almost always are child porn cases. ¬†For me, I was always helping prove that someone¬†knowingly downloaded child porn, and usually disproving the “It must have been a Virus” defense.

This is different. ¬†If true, my neighbor was hacking into phones and stealing nude photos. ¬†In my line of work, we talk about the various type of threats we have and what are their motivations. ¬†Now we can add perverted 17 year old boys trying to find naked pictures of teenagers. ¬†What if can across your banking info? ¬†Think he’d buy himself a couple of video games?

I can think of several lessons here:

  • Everything on a computer is¬†discoverable. ¬†If you have a naked photo of yourself, it could get posted somewhere. ¬†Those files seem to live forever.
  • This is even more true on phones. ¬†Did you know that many photos are automatically “backed up” onto servers (especially on non-smartphones)? ¬†Things like IM and texting are unsecure and can be read by others?
  • Teach your children about security.¬† Do you tell your children about dark alleys at night? ¬†Then tell them how to avoid getting attacked on the internet. ¬†Here’s a few good links:
  • Install Anti-Malware on your Smartphone and Tablets. Here are two of my favorite (and they’re free!):

I’ll keep monitoring the situation and see how things evolve. ¬†For this kids sake, I hope it’s not true. ¬†We’ll see how the investigation goes.

Posted in Personal Note, Security | Leave a Comment »

Wipe the Drive! or use Bit9

Posted by Xavier Ashe on March 23, 2013

I just read a great article by¬†Mark Baggett (@MarkBaggett)¬†on the ISC Diary called Wipe the drive! Stealthy Malware Persistence Mechanism – Part 1 and Wipe the drive! Stealthy Malware Persistence – Part 2. ¬†This was from his presentation at Shmoocom 2013. ¬†He shows 4¬†different¬†methods how malware can stick around even after it’s been “cleaned” by anti-malware products. ¬†I completely agree with his advice: always “Wipe the Drive”. ¬†It’s the only sure fire way to clean the system, but what if you can’t for some reason? ¬†Maybe it’s a traveling employee or an executive at a conference. ¬†Wiping and¬†re-imaging is¬†a costly procedure in most enterprises.

What if you had Bit9 installed? ¬†How would these 4 situations play out? ¬†Let’s go through them. ¬†Bit 9 can be run in three protection modes: Monitor-only with Advanced Treat Indicators (ATIs), Block & Ask, and Block. ¬†If you are running endpoints in Monitor-only mode with ATIs, you would get an alert on your Bit9 console for these actions. ¬† This alert could be acted upon within Bit9 or from your SIEM. ¬†For the other two modes, I’ll explain how each of these would be blocked, since that’s how most of our customers use Bit9.

TECHNIQUE  #1  РFile Associations Hijacking

What happens when you click on a .TXT file?¬†¬† The operating system checks the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT hive for the associated extension to see what program it should launch. ¬†…

What if the attacker or his malware changes this association?   Instead of launching notepad it tells the OS to launch NOTPAD.EXE.     NOTPAD.EXE is wrapper around the real NOTEPAD.EXE but it also contains a malicious payload.

This is pretty straightforward. ¬†NOTPAD.EXE would be blocked because it isn’t trusted. ¬†No matter how you tricked the user into running it, Bit9 is protecting you. ¬†When you get the block alert, it’s time to wipe the drive, but only when get around to it… after all, you are protected by Bit9.


BITS is the Background Intelligent Transfer System.  This service is used by your operating system to download patches from Microsoft or your local WSUS server.   But this service can also be used to schedule the download of an attacker’s malware to reinfect your system.   Once the attacker or his malware are on on your machine he execute BITSADMIN to schedule the download of   He schedules the job to only retry the URL once a day and automatically execute the program after it is successfully downloaded.  The attacker doesn’t put anything at that URL today.   Instead, he simply waits for you to finish your incident handling process and look the other way.   You can scan the machine with 100 different virus scanners.   Today there is no file on your system to detect.  You can do memory forensics all day.   Sorry, there is nothing running today.    Today it is just a simple configuration change to the OS.    Then when he is ready he places malware.exe on his site.   Your machine dutifully downloads the new malware and executes it.

Again, this is a very easy use case. ¬†malware.exe wouldn’t be allowed to run. ¬†When you get the block alert, it’s time to wipe the drive, but only when get around to it. ¬†Bit9’s got you covered until then.

TECHNIQUE  #3  РProgram.exe

When Jake and I were preparing for the Shmoocon talk that we gave on this subject, I suggested we include this technique in our presentation.    Jake disagreed because this thing has been around since the year 2000 and I quickly relented and agreed with him.  At the time we both thought that this technique is pretty lame and we shouldn’t have to worry about a THIRTEEN YEAR OLD vulnerability.   Instead I decided to do a post on the ISC to talk about the technique and see what response we got.    The response for you, our awesome supporters, was incredible.    ISC readers documented several dozen of these attacks in critical systems common to most corporate desktop images.    You made Jake a believer (he had a vulnerable OEM application you found on his laptop). The response was such that I am now convinced that an attacker can use this technique and have a great deal of confidence that his malware will be launched.   As a matter of fact, it will probably be launched by something that has system permissions.    I won’t repeat the full details of the technique here since I already covered it on the ISC.   You can check out this article if you missed it:

This is the scenario. Malware or an attacker is on your machine.¬†¬† He has administrative or Power User access.¬†¬† The attacker drops a file called ‚Äúprogram.exe‚ÄĚ on the root of your C drive.¬†¬†¬† ‚Äúprogram.exe‚ÄĚ is a small application that reads the command line parameters that were used to call it.¬† It launches the real program you had intended to call and then executes its malicious payload.¬†¬† Simple but effective.

This one is interesting.  When you install the Bit9 agent, it locally approves all files on the system.  Then you setup a chain of trust.  If you have program.exe on old machines or existing gold images, Bit9 will trust it.

I would advise following the link above and understanding this issue. ¬†It’s worth it to review gold images a bit closer when putting them in your trust based architecture in Bit9. ¬†When doing this review, it’s a great use case for using cloud based reputation using Bit9’s Software Reputation Service (SRS). ¬†If you have any questionable files on your image, run them through SRS. ¬†Find out what the world thinks about them. ¬†Another bit of advice for vetting gold images: review unsigned code! ¬†You can even detonate files in a FireEye MAS, if you have one.

If you do find any malware like this program.exe, globally ban it in Bit9 (and delete it from your gold image)!  This will instantly protect all existing computers running the Bit9 agent.  Global Bans even work on Bit9 agents running in Monitor-only mode.  No need to wipe every drive immediately when you are protected with Bit9.

Technique #4 –¬† Service Failure Recovery Startups

You can configure Windows services with an automatic recovery action.¬† The defined action will be taken when the service crashes unexpectedly.¬†¬†¬† You can see these on the recovery tab for a service using services.msc.¬†¬† Here you see this service first tries to restart the service, then it will …. ummm… whats that??¬† ..¬† RUN A PROGRAM.¬†¬† Hmm.

This use case is also straightforward. ¬†The malware has tricked the user, even tricked the system, but it hasn’t been tricked by Bit9. ¬†Blocked, again.

I hope this helps shine the light on the amazing power of software whitelisting. ¬†It changes the game in end-point protection. ¬†You don’t have to go running after every trick in the book that may trick a user.¬†You only have vet the software you trust, and you don’t have to wipe the drive immediately when an infection occurs. ¬†Bit9 gives you the freedom to have endpoint protected while you wipe the drive at your¬†convenience.

Posted in Bit9, Security | Leave a Comment »

Gartner’s take on Endpoint Security

Posted by Xavier Ashe on March 12, 2013

Since moving from network security to endpoint security, I’ve been soaking as much wisdom on various approaches, priorities, and opinions out there.  I came across this Gartner study titled “Predicts 2013: Endpoint Security Becomes Even More Important for Infrastructure Protection”.  It seems to hit home with many of the viewpoints I am hearing from my customers.  The Bit9 web folks have posted a copy on the Bit9 website, but here’s the gist:

Key Findings

  • Most endpoint security tools are designed to allow any application to run, unless it is known to be malicious. Restricting applications that are allowed to execute to a known set of preapproved applications is gaining acceptance as a more-effective security measure for dealing with rapidly morphing malware and advanced persistent threats.
  • Malware authors typically attack the easiest and most prevalent targets. Mobile devices offer a range of possibilities along these two scales.
  • As computer processing is dispersed into operational technology (OT) systems, data sources and access points expand exponentially. Some of these objects will require security due to the sensitivity of the processing they perform and the data they provide, particularly for OT-centric enterprises.
  • Most organizations are removing URL blocks and permitting most employees to access external social media from corporate-owned and managed endpoints and networks.


  • Consider application control a key requirement of endpoint protection systems. Favor vendors that have mature workflow processes for dealing with change and have large installed bases of users from which to draw samples.
  • Focus investments in platforms that have a default-deny application control environment, or be prepared for higher costs and more potential for infections.
  • If your enterprise is involved with OT such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, process control, telemetering, sensors or similar OT, immediately try for IT/OT alignment, convergence and integration to develop plans for security oversight.
  • End-user organizations should anticipate continued investments in procedures and solutions focused on managing security risks in external social media. However, solutions in this space are immature, and organizations should expect regular changes in feature sets and vendors.

Posted in Security | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

My Evolving Security Philosophy

Posted by Xavier Ashe on February 5, 2013

From the very start of considering a move from IBM Security Systems to Bit9, I¬†gave a lot of thought to my security¬†philosophy. ¬†I really do believe strongly in IBM’s security portfolio, and I wanted to make sure moving to Bit9 didn’t undercut my security philosophy. ¬†Working for IBM taught me a lot about holistic security and how good security products are usable no matter if you have basic security maturity, or advanced. ¬†I generally focused on the network side of security, mainly in SIEM and NIPS. ¬†I’ve shied away from endpoint security (for the exception of dabbling in forensics and TEM),¬†because¬†it’s such a headache. Virus scan software is a joke, letting just about everything modern in. ¬†Case in point with the recent attacks at the New York Times:

Over the course of three months, attackers installed 45 pieces of custom malware. The Times ‚ÄĒ which uses antivirus products made by Symantec ‚ÄĒ found only one instance in which Symantec identified an attacker‚Äôs software as malicious and quarantined it, according to Mandiant.

I see this all the time. ¬†That’s why products like QRadar and IBM Security NIDS are so popular. ¬†You have to fall back to the network, if can’t get control of the endpoint. ¬†Why attack the endpoint? ¬†It’s seems to be the easiest and most successful. ¬†There’s typically three categories of attacks:

  1. Remote attacks launched from the internet (DoS, SQL Injection, etc.)
  2. Insider threats, and
  3. Infect an endpoint, then launch attack from within (phishing, drive-by downloads)

Network based protection is very useful at blocking and/or detecting all three of these attacks categories, but that leaves you with a perimeter based security protection.  With perimeter based security, one tries to tackle the channels of infections like email and web browsing.  There are tons of solutions that help with this, but nothing helps as soon as that endpoint walks out the door.  Network security should be used to protect infrastructure, not endpoints.

So what can be done to protect the endpoint?  IBM Tivoli Endpoint Manager does a lot to manage all the small stuff like patch management, software delivery, compliance, and virus scanning.  I say small stuff, not to dismiss its importance, but they are processes that should be in place already.  Having TEM take care of it all is just easier.

When I was at IBM and a customer was worried about the Insider Threat, we would use either TSIEM or QRadar to pull in system and audit logs. ¬†What we usually found near pure chaos, since it’s very hard to figure out what is what within system logs. ¬†The best approach I have found is using white list¬†policies. ¬†We would build profiles of acceptable behavior in an environment, filter it out, then¬†analyze¬†the rest. ¬†It was a great approach and bled over into some of my other SIEM and NIPS scenarios.

The reason I bring this up is that one of the reasons I like Bit9’s software is that it¬†employs¬†a similar white list approach, but looks to be MUCH easier than the rat’s nest that is system and audit logs.

Let me summarize:

  • Network¬†security is best when focused on protecting¬†infrastructure¬†like hosted applications and databases. ¬†It loses effectiveness when trying to secure the endpoint.
  • As for hosted applications, security vulnerability testing and security development should be a closed loop.
  • Insider threats can only be managed if you are doing system and audit log analysis. ¬†It’s a costly investment, but worth it to certain business sectors like banking and military.
  • Endpoint protection must include basic measures including patch management, lifecycle¬†management, and basic written security policy.
  • I believe SIEM is¬†critical¬†to tie it all together and should be the single pane of glass.
  • Maturity in other security processes like identity management, access management, policy, compliance, encryption, and asset management¬†help all your other security investments.
  • Overall security policy¬†governance¬†has to be tailored to the size and type of¬†organization.

As I write this out, I see that going after endpoint security with Bit9 fits for me.  I am looking forward to learning more about its capabilities and how our customers would like to use it.

Posted in Personal Note, Security, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Extracting data with USB HID

Posted by Xavier Ashe on January 27, 2013

As I get more into my Bit9 job, I will be doing a lot more endpoint security. I’ve been on the network side of security for so long, I have some ramping up to do. A very common request is to secure USB devices. Here’s a good article on getting data off a locked down system.

High security workstations have some pretty peculiar ways of securing data. One of these is disabling any USB flash drives that may find their way into a system’s USB port. Security is a cat and mouse game, so of course there’s a way around these measures. [d3ad0ne] came up with a way of dumping files onto an SD card by using the USB HID protocol.

We‚Äôve seen this sort of thing before where a microcontroller carries an executable to extract data. Previously, the best method was to blink the Caps Lock LED on a keyboard, sending one bit at a time to a microcontroller. [d3ad0ne]‚Äės build exploits the USB HID protocol, but instead of 1 bit per second, he‚Äôs getting about 10kBps.

Hack-a-Day: Extracting Data with USB HID

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IBM Security Access Manager for Cloud and Mobile

Posted by Xavier Ashe on October 30, 2012

The new IBM Security Access Manager for Cloud and Mobile bundle brings together market leading capabilities of IBM Tivoli Federated Identity Manager Business Gateway (TFIM-BG) and IBM Tivoli Security Policy Manager (TSPM).

IBM Security Access Manager for Cloud and Mobile provides the following key capabilities:


  • Helps detect and prevent user access fraud by enforcing risk-based access control
  • Reduces costs and complexity by enabling single sign-on and federation for cloud and on-premise applications
  • Improves security posture and helps demonstrates compliance through centralized policy management

IBM Security Access Manager for Cloud and Mobile extends user access protection to mobile and cloud environments using federated single sign-on, user authentication, and risk scoring based on location, device, access pattern, etc.¬† IBM Security Access Manager for Cloud and Mobile provides risk-based access control from mobile end points such as smartphones and tablets so that users don’t inadvertently expose your sensitive IT assets in an unsafe environment.

IBM Security Access Manager for Cloud and Mobile helps enterprises adopting cloud-based services leverage single sign-on for secure information sharing across private, public and hybrid cloud environments.  Using IBM Security Access Manager for Cloud and Mobile, enterprises can implement a powerful mediation service for Cloud, SaaS and web services, while reducing administrative costs, establishing trust and facilitating compliance.
IBM Security Access Manager for Cloud and Mobile highlights:

  • Risk-based access control for anytime/anywhere access from mobile devices
  • Cloud Single Sign-On and Federation with easy onboarding of applications
  • Centralized Policy Management and Fine-grained Access Control

Posted in IBM, Security | Leave a Comment »

New features in QRadar 7.1

Posted by Xavier Ashe on October 29, 2012

Stolen from the QRadar 7.1 Release notes:


  • Upgraded Operating System – QRadar 7.1 includes a substantial upgrade to the operating system. During the upgrade process on your system, the following operating system updates occur:
    • For systems that previously used the CentOS operating system, the operating system is replaced with the Red Hat Linux 6.2 operating system.
    • For systems that previously used the Red Hat Linux 5.7 operating system, the operating system is upgraded to the Red Hat Linux 6.2 operating system.

      If your system is configured with off-board storage solutions, you are required to remount your storage solutions during the upgrade process. We recommend that you carefully read the Upgrading to QRadar Release 7.1 Guide and the Reconfiguring Offboard Storage After Upgrading to QRadar 7.1 Technical Note.

  • New WinCollect Agent – QRadar 7.1 introduces WinCollect and the WinCollect agent for collecting and managing Windows-based events using the Admin tab in QRadar. For more information on WinCollect, see the WinCollect User Guide.
  • New Vulnerability Details Page on the Assets Tab – QRadar 7.1 introduces the Research Vulnerability Details window, which you can access from the Assets tab. The Research Vulnerability Details window provides information about known vulnerabilities detected by third-party scanners. Vulnerability information and identifiers are sourced from external references, such as the Open Source Vulnerability Database (OSVDB) and National Vulnerability Database (NVDB). QRadar 7.1 also includes the ability to import vulnerability data from scanners that do not store data with OSVDB or NVDB references, such as IBM Appscan Enterprise.
  • New Index Management – The Index Management feature is accessed from the Admin tab. Index Management allows you to control database indexing event properties. By enabling indexing on event properties, you can optimize the speed of your searches.
  • New Dedicated Event Collector Appliance and Supporting Store and Forward – QRadar 7.1 introduces the QRadar 1501 appliance, which is a dedicated Event Collector. This appliance is also available as the QRadar 1590 virtual appliance.
  • Using Store and Forward accessed from the Admin tab, you can now store events on your dedicated Event Collector during your business hours. These events can be forwarded to an Event Processor during periods of time when the transmission does not negatively affect your network bandwidth. For example, you can configure a dedicated Event Collector to only forward events to an Event Processor during non-business hours, such as midnight until 6 AM.
  • Updated VFlow Collector Installation Procedure – The VFlow Collector installation procedure is updated to make the process consistent with the virtual appliance installation process. For more information, see the QRadar Installation Guide.

Posted in IBM, QRadar, Security, Security Intelligence | Leave a Comment »

Videos about IBM XGS 5000, NextGen IPS

Posted by Xavier Ashe on October 8, 2012

It’s been interesting to watch the firewall and IPS space over the years.¬† First we had firewall vendors adding IPS features.¬† Then we had IPS vendors adding firewalls features.¬† Personally, I’ve always thought it made sense to use an IPS with firewall features because I’ve never seen a firewall with an IPS worth using.¬† Now application aware firewalls have proven useful, it’s time for IPS vendors to add more application awareness.¬† Hey look, I work for an IPS vendor ūüėČ

IBM’s Security Network Protection XGS 5000 is a next generation intrusion prevention system, adding tons of features to IPS like web content, application and application action control, protocol analysis based intrusion prevention, URL filtering, Injection Logic Protection, Shell Code Heuristics, and virtual patch.

Marketing bullet points:

  • Help stop threats from compromising unpatched vulnerabilities without sacrificing high-speed network performance.
  • Help protect networks, servers, desktops, and business critical applications from malicious threats.
  • Conserve network bandwidth and provide insight into what users are doing on the corporate network. It helps control user bandwidth consumption by limiting or eliminating access to nonbusiness critical applications.
  • Help enforce compliance and internal corporate usage of nonbusiness critical applications such as social networking, peer to peer file transfers, instant messaging traffic, and streaming media.
  • Provide an extensible security platform that can grow as threats evolve, help consolidate network protection technologies, and help reduce the cost of deploying and managing point solutions.

You can get lots of print literature here, but who wants to read when you can watch videos on YouTube.

IBM Security NextGen IPS Use Case Videos

IBM Security NextGen IPS How to Videos

Posted in IBM, ISS, Security | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Transitioning from TSIEM to QRadar ‚Äď Terminology

Posted by Xavier Ashe on May 21, 2012

The transition guide from IBM Tivoli Security Information and Event Manager (TSIEM) to IBM QRadar is essentially complete. I still have to get it formatted to the standard template, though. We are also figuring out internally where to post it officially, but once I fix the formatting, it will be available here.

Until then, you can wet your appetite with this terminology chart.



Agent Adaptive Log Exporter, Event Processor
Agent group Log Source Group
Alerts Rule Response
Archiving Data Backup & Restore
Audited machine Asset and/or Log Source
Backup & Restore Backup & Restore
Chunk No equivalent ‚Äď data is stored together in Ariel
Compliance Dashboard Dashboard
Compliance Management Module No equivalent ‚Äď all reports are included in QRadar
Consolidation component Magistrate
Credential Store Credentials are stored in Postgres
Depot Ariel
Distribution Email distribution is configured within the report definition
Enterprise Server 31xx console in a distributed deployment
Event Source Log Source
Forensics component Payload search (with optional indexing)
Group Definitions Building Block
GSL Parser Universal Device Support Module (uDSM) XML file
GML Mapper Map Event – available in the GUI
Launchpad (Tivoli Integrated Portal) Console GUI
Log Continuity Report No equivalent due to use of syslog for most log sources
Log History Report QRadar report called ‚ÄúErrors and Failures‚ÄĚ
Log Manager Dashboard Log Sources in the Admin tab
Log Management Activity Report QRadar report: (Daily, Weekly, or Monthly) Log/Event Distribution by Category
Log Management component QRadar Log Manager
Log Management Depot Investigation


Payload search (with optional indexing)
Log Management Retrieval Tool >‚ÄúRaw Log‚ÄĚ view in Log Activity
Normalization component Built-in to QRadar, required part of the event processor
Policy Building Block
Policy Explorer/Editor Rules/Building Blocks Editor
Policy Generator QRadar Tuning Guide
Regulations Contained within QRadar reports
Reporting Database No equivalent ‚Äď QRadar is real-time, with all data going into the same Ariel datastore
Security Information Management (SIM) component Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) component
Security Group All QRadar deployments use one User store, the console appliance, unless external authentication is configured
Scoping User Role (scope by network hierarchy) and User Account (scope by Log Sources)
Significance Magnitude
Special Attention Rule Building Block or Rule
Standard Server All-in-one Console
Trending Time Series
User Information Source Reference Set
User Roles User Roles
W7 No equivalent term, but QRadar has a standard normalization scheme as well

Posted in IBM, QRadar, Security, TSIEM | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Transitioning From TSIEM and/or TSOM to QRadar – Intro

Posted by Xavier Ashe on February 7, 2012

Hello SIEM world. I have been working with IBM SIEM products for years now and we have come along way. Some products can grow with the changing tides of customer needs, while other times we must leapfrog the competition and acquire a new technology. I am so excited to get to work with the new products from Q1 Labs, QRadar and QRisk Manager. We still have TSIEM and TSOM available, but a couple of customers have asked me about transitioning to QRadar. I will be at IBM Pulse this year covering the topic. I’ve decide to post my materials here as I develop them.

Tivoli Security Operations Manager, or TSOM, is used for automating the tasks of a Security Operations Center (SOC), big or small. It’s real-time and statistical correlation allows customers to automate many responses to events and manage large amounts of data from a vast collection of endpoints, mostly networking and security devices. It enabled security personnel to quickly drive to the source of a problems or flag it as a false positive.

Tivoli Security Information and Event Manager, or TSIEM, is used to develop rich reporting for user based activities. The tool collects from operating systems, databases, and applications, allowing customers to track user activities throughout their network. The resulting reports were meaningful and concise, allowing for reports to be consumed by non-technical staff and auditors to pass compliance.

To get the best of both worlds, we integrated the two to get a powerful, flexible architecture. The two products work very well together, getting the best out of both worlds, security and user compliance. I’ve deployed this dual architecture all over the world (and still have at least more more to do this year).

Now we have added QRadar from Q1 Labs to the mix. QRadar is a powerful security analytics tool that brings unbridled flexibility to the SIEM space. It’s distributed architecture allows for 10-20 times (at least) the events per seconds that TSOM or TSIEM could do, opening the door to new environments for SIEM. One of my favorite features is the Netflow and QFlow analyzers. I’ll be posting a customer story soon about how the combination of event data and flow data allowed us to find an infected host behind a firewall and Citrix server. With QRadar, you get ease of use, tons of automatically updated security content, plus enough flexibility to get this old services guy excited. As the product stands today, I can configure it to do some amazing things. Plus the roadmap is chock full of even more features.

So while you can still get TSOM and TSIEM from IBM, I can see the excitement around QRadar. It’s a whole new class of product and I join you in the excitement. As I develop material around transitioning, I’ll post it here. I think I’ll probably end up writing another Redpaper, like I did when we transitioned from Tivoli Risk Manager to TSOM. If you are going to be at IBM Pulse, please drop me a line. I’d love to hear how you’re using the tools and how I can be of service. Just think about it like this: Go to Pulse and get free consulting!

Posted in IBM, QRadar, Security, Security Intelligence, TSIEM, TSOM | Leave a Comment »

WPA’s TKIP cracked in 12 to 15 minutes

Posted by Xavier Ashe on November 8, 2008

According to several sources, security researchers Erik Tews and Martin Beck have found a way to break the Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) key used by WPA. Cracking the TKIP key was never thought to be an impossible feat and it was previously thought that the angle of attack would be via a massive dictionary attack over an extended period of time.

Tews and Beck, however, did not use a dictionary attack to crack TKIP. According to Dragos Ruiu (via this Network World article), the organizer of the PacSec conference where Tews plans on discussing the crack, the researchers first discovered a way to trick a WPA router into sending them large amounts of data. This makes cracking the key easier, but this technique is also combined with a ‚Äúmathematical breakthrough,‚ÄĚ that lets them crack WPA much more quickly than any previous attempt.

And how long did it take Tews and Beck….12 to 15 minutes.

Beck, creator of the Aircrack security tool, has also added the ability to exploit this weakness over the past two weeks. Note, this attack only impacts WPA and not WPA2, which is still deemed ‚Äúsafe‚ÄĚ. Over the past few years people who were using WEP, which was determined to be an unsafe and easy to crack protocol, were advised to switch over to WPA due to prevent an attack of this magnitude. Now many enterprise customers will be left scratching their heads and wondering how long it will be until they have to switch to something other than WPA2‚Ķand at what cost.

From Andrew Hay’s Blog.

Posted in Security, Tools | Leave a Comment »

New Web based Training for TSOM 4.1

Posted by Xavier Ashe on October 7, 2008

IBM Tivoli Security Operations Manager 4.1 – Fundamentals

Course description

In this 4-hour Web-based training course, you will use IBM Tivoli Security Operations Manager 4.1 to learn its fundamentals and operator tasks.


After completing this course, you should be able to:

  • Install and configure IBM Tivoli Security Operations Manager 4.1
  • Configure and collect events from sensors

Course outline

  1. Introduction
  2. Installation
  3. Administration
  4. Investigating Events
  5. Correlating Events

Who will benefit from this course

This course is intended for implementers and administrators who need to correlate security events.

Required skills/knowledge

  • Intrusion detection: Understand the basic concepts of intrusion detection
  • TCP/IP: Understand IP addresses, networks, and ports

Recommended courses

Click here for order information.

Posted in IBM, Security, TSOM | Leave a Comment »

Cyber Peeping Tom

Posted by Xavier Ashe on October 4, 2008

Federal prosecutors are going after a Florida college student who allegedly installed spyware on a woman’s laptop to covertly snap nude photos of her through her webcam.

Craig Matthew Feigin, 23, is charged (.pdf) in U.S. District Court in Gainesville with violating the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Feigin was arrested by local police last July.

The case began when the victim noticed changes in her computer’s behavior after giving it to Feigin for overnight repairs, the Gainesville Sun reported at the time. Every time she got near her laptop,¬† the light on her webcam switched on.

A friend with IT experience examined the system, and found that someone had installed the remote access program Log Me In, and software called Web Cam Spy Hacker, which Feigin himself sold online as a tool for catching cheating spouses. Over three weeks, the software allegedly uploaded some 20,000 images of the woman to an Eastern European web server before it was detected.

Read the full article on Wired.

Posted in Security | Leave a Comment »

IBM software bundle targets retail theft, data breaches

Posted by Xavier Ashe on October 2, 2008

IBM is targeting retail security with a package of software and services designed to prevent physical loss of merchandise, protect against electronic threats and comply with credit card industry regulations.

SecureStore, announced Wednesday, combines surveillance and RFID systems with software that protects online and in-store transactions, as well as software that protects databases and applications from network-based threats, IBM said. While SecureStore mainly consists of pre-released products from IBM divisions such as Internet Security Systems (ISS), Tivoli and Rational, Big Blue’s Val Rahmani says it is unique in that it brings together products from various parts of IBM to address one industry segment, and re-architects the products so they fit together and are optimized for retail.

Read the full article on Network World.

Posted in IBM, ISS, Security, TSOM | Leave a Comment »

New ISC(2) Certification

Posted by Xavier Ashe on September 30, 2008

I am pleased to inform you that (ISC)2 launched a brand new certification program designed to validate secure software development practices and expertise and address the increasing number of application vulnerabilities. The need for education and certification in this area has become an overwhelming global concern in the industry and as a certifying body and proponent of continuing professional education we were presented the opportunity to provide a solution to address the issue.

The Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional (CSSLP) aims to stem the proliferation of security vulnerabilities resulting from insufficient development processes by establishing best practices and validating an individual’s competency in addressing security issues throughout the software lifecycle (SLC). It takes a holistic approach to software security. Code-language neutral, it will be applicable to anyone involved in the SLC, including analysts, developers, software engineers, software architects, project managers, software quality assurance testers and programmers. CSSLP is the only certification in the industry that ensures that security is considered throughout the entire software lifecycle.


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Security and Society: Role of Government

Posted by Xavier Ashe on September 29, 2008

Posted in IBM, Security | Leave a Comment »

Security Management: A Chicken & Egg Problem

Posted by Xavier Ashe on September 8, 2008

Today’s security information and event management products and practices, as well as log aggregation and analysis technology, are still largely the same as they were in 2006. Oh, the players have changed — the big vendors now dominate the SIEM market — but there hasn’t been a revolution in the automation of security management technology or practices that even comes close to matching the revolutions we see in attack vectors almost every week.

It may sound like I’m dinging the SIEM technology vendors for a lack of recent innovation, but I’m not. The problem here really isn’t the vendors, but enterprise security managers. Vendors are only as good as the market demands, and so far, most security pros are still too busy fighting fires to really put much thought, time, or money into the management problem.

Interesting article on Dark Reading.

Posted in Security | Leave a Comment »

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